Women's Rising Economic Power: A Force for Global Women's Empowerment

This International Women's Day is a fitting time to celebrate women's growing economic might and our ability to wield this power on behalf of the world's women.

We know that poverty is primarily female -- the term "feminization of poverty" was coined to reflect this harsh reality. Women make up over half the world's population and yet represent a staggering 70 percent of the world's poor. According to UN Women, the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on less than $1 per day are women. Over the past decade, the gap between women and men in poverty has increased. Worldwide, women earn a bit more than 50 percent of what men earn. While Gloria Steinem's The Masculinization of Wealth points out how class works in reverse for women of inherited wealth, this phrase is also a powerful metaphor for what has occurred, and is continuing to transpire, for much of our history. For example, women still account for only 11% of the recent 2015 Forbes billionaire list.

Despite the feminization of poverty and masculinization of wealth, in 2009, less than 7.5 percent of philanthropic funds were targeted to women and girls. Because women and girls constitute half the world's people and are disproportionately marginalized, significantly more resources are necessary to address gender discrimination.

Now, perhaps at last, we are beginning to see the potential for a sea change that could further propel a global movement for women and girls. And it is women themselves who have the ability to become a powerful force for change.

In 2009, the Boston Consulting Group estimated that women controlled 27 percent of the world's wealth -- approximately $20 trillion. The percentages are highest for women in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia (excluding Japan). Women's wealth will continue to grow. By 2030, women are expected to control $75.4 TRILLION. In particular, women control an ever-increasing part of North American and worldwide wealth. North American women are estimated to have the capacity to give $230 billion -- an amount equivalent to all charitable giving from individuals in the U.S. in 2013. Women in North America currently control an estimated $13.2 trillion of wealth and if they gave even a small percentage of this wealth, they could dwarf charitable giving by U.S.-based foundations and corporations.

Innumerable questions arise from these astounding statistics. Chief amongst them would be: What can/should North American women do philanthropically with this wealth?

My answer on this Women's History Month: direct a substantial amount of giving to the empowerment of women and girls.

Promoting equality and justice for more than half the world's people is the right thing to do. Creating a more just world where every person has equal opportunity presents a compelling vision of a better world. In addition to this ethical clarion call, there are vital practical reasons for promoting the rights of women and girls. As far back as 2006, The Economist proclaimed that women are "the world's most under-utilized resource." Reams of data prove the women and girls lie at the center of solutions to some of our greatest collective challenges - poverty, inequality, conflict, sustainable economic development and climate change. For example, in 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that giving women farmers the same resources as male farmers, such as farm equipment and fertilizer, could enhance their productivity by 20 to 30 percent, and this, in turn, would increase agricultural output in developing nations by 2.5 to 4 percent. Increasing production by this amount would reduce the number of undernourished people by 100 to 150 million. Reducing gender inequity thus has concrete benefits for all members of a society.

It is time for all women -- and men - to stand together in a just cause for the empowerment of women and girls.